Fort Payne High School sophomore Laurel Shugart was recently awarded the National Center for Women & Information Technology Award for Aspiration in Computing National Honorable Mention.
The NCWIT award honors ninth through 12th-grade female students for their computing-related achievements and interests, encouraging them to pursue their passion.
Shugart was selected from over 4,200 applicants from all 50 U.S. states and Canada. Recipients are chosen based on their aptitude and aspirations in technology and computing, as demonstrated by their computing experience, computing-related activities, leadership experience and post-secondary education plans.
“I am incredibly honored to have been selected for this award,” said Shugart. “This award is both a huge accomplishment for me and an incredible honor.”
Shugart began her journey as a fifth-grade Fort Payne Middle School FIRST Lego League team member in 2015.
“When I joined, I was shy and anxious and I had never been very technologically literate,” she said. “I was incredibly meek and I almost always shied away from any leadership role, but over the past six years, I have learned so much and so many doors have been opened for me.”
Today, Shugart is going into her sixth year as president of the Gigawatts Robotics Team and says the experience has given her invaluable technology experiences.
“I have learned how to design professional presentations and notebooks, as well as helping to program in C# Code,” she said. “Being on this team has also given me soft skills that will undoubtedly make me more successful down the road. I’ve gone from barely speaking to my own family members to confidently speaking to an audience of 600 people. ”
In her time with the Gigawatts, Shugart has being awarded the Rising Star Award from the National Space Club in 2018, first-place state champion in the FIRST LEGO League competition, first place in a presentation at the Razorback Invitational against 80 teams from around the world and the Rookie Inspiration Award at the Rocket City Regional.
“In 2019, I was lucky enough to present at the Society of Women in Engineering at the University of Alabama in Birmingham’s Girls in STEM day,” she said. “I met a few students from UAB’s School of Biomedical Engineering.”
Shugart said she has always had a desire to pursue the medical field after high school. However, her involvement with FIRST has introduced a new passion for STEM in her life.
“When I learned more about biomedical science, I found that it perfectly combined my love for both STEM and medicine,” she said. “After high school, I hope to pursue a career in biomedical research engineering.”
Fort Payne High School Gigawatts Robotics Team Instructor Jamie McClung said this was Shugart's first time submitting for the award.
“The hardest part for her was mentioning all of her activities and successes within their word count limits,” said McClung. “I think the mission of NCWIT to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers is one of great merit.”
McClung said he encourages students to pursue STEM careers with vast opportunities in the field with a shortage of STEM professionals, which doubles for females.
“I am beyond proud of Laurel. It has been an honor to watch her become the young leader she is today,” he said. “I have no doubt that she will fulfill her aspirations in biomedical technologies. We are likely to hear about more great accomplishments from her in the future.”
Her peers describe Shugart as an exceptional student, a founding member of the school's FIRST Robotics team who has used her platform to excel in computer science and leadership.
“STEM has always been a huge part of my life, and I have always had a passion for showing younger girls that just because STEM fields and robotics are male-dominated, it doesn’t mean that it’s a man’s job,” said Shugart. “I wouldn’t trade the opportunities I have gained from this team for the world.”
As a recipient of the NCWIT Award for Aspiration in Computing, Shugart has received an invitation to an upcoming virtual awards ceremony to receive her award. She also received a cash prize and various opportunities for scholarships and internships.